Reporting from the Global Philanthropy Forum: Thoughts on day 1

I’m attending the Global Philanthropy Forum this week, held just outside San Francisco. Last year, as Laura Starita reported, the discussion was all about public-private partnerships. This year it’s a back-to-basics outlook focusing on basic health, food and water. Here are some brief thoughts on what I heard on the first day.

→ In one of the opening plenary ‘conversations’, Tim Brown of IDEO (which for some reason seems to be all the rage in philanthropic circles these days) responded to a questions about finding opportunities where good design could make a difference by saying (and here I use quotations loosely): ‘The honest truth is that most of us are not very good at solving our own problems.’ While I’m not sure I entirely agree, I think it is an interesting point to consider, particularly when it comes to the romanticization of the poor. Over the last decade there’s been a huge movement toward empowering the grass roots and adopting local solutions, and moving away from ‘top-down’ approaches. While there is obvious wisdom in this movement and in general we endorse it, Brown’s comment reminded me that there are many problems where there is not the capacity or resources for real local solutions to be developed. We can’t just assume that the poor will develop the best solutions for their own problems, just like we are often not very good at finding solutions to our own problems.

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